A few months ago, I argued that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had a tailor-made opportunity with the EU membership referendum.
Given that working-class Labour voters would be likely to determine the result, Corbyn could have shown that he has what it takes on the most crucial national referendum in decades. Most importantly, for a nervous set of Labour MPs warily eyeing a general election in 2020 or even sooner, it would show that Corbyn could actually win votes.
Corbyn, who fought a lonely fight in the 1970s and 1980s against Margaret Thatcher, then increasingly against his own party’s moderate ‘third way’ leadership in the 1990s and 2000s, was uniquely placed to win back those voters in northern England, many of whom supported Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the 2015 general election. Of course, they are the voters who also voted so overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. Sadly, Corbyn had the kind of credibility that could have brought more working-class voters in Labour’s traditional northern heartlands to the Remain camp.
As it turns out, Labour supporters backed Remain by the considerable margin of 69% to 31%. But that 31% that supported Leave could have made the difference between failure and victory.
Standing before the House of Commons Wednesday night, eliciting applause from both the governing Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, Benn made the clearest case for the United Kingdom to join US and French airstrikes in Syria.
Slack-jawed commentators lined up to call Benn’s speech one of the best in the Commons in recent memory and, given the rarity of applause (let alone bipartisan applause) in the House, there’s a great case that they are right. The Telegraph‘s Dan Hodges argued that Benn looked not just like a future opposition leader, but a future prime minister (and you don’t hear those words thrown around these days about anyone in Labour):
Tonight [Benn] articulately, and passionately and elegantly re-crafted his ploughshares into swords. The diplomatic case. The military case. The strategic case. Calmly and forensically he made the argument the Prime Minister could not make and the Leader of the Opposition could not destroy.
Ironically, Benn is the son of the late Tony Benn, the former secretary of state for energy under prime minister James Callaghan, and a one-time deputy leadership candidate in 1981. Long a member of Labour’s hard left, the adjective ‘Bennite’ for decades described the party’s supposedly unelectable left-wing fringe, mentoring socialists like Jeremy Corbyn, who recently upset Labour’s moderates to win the Labour leadership in September, and John McDonnell, who now serves as shadow chancellor. Even after standing down from Parliament in 2001, Tony Benn was an outspoken critic of the British participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, serving in the mid-2000s as the leader of the ‘Stop the War’ coalition that Corbyn would later head. Continue reading Who is Hilary Benn?→